Staying home alone for the first time can be scary, so it’s important to make the transition as painless and safe as possible. Detective Missy Parker of the Maple Grove Police Department and Sheryl Nefstead, a teacher through District 279, teach a class through the Maple Grove Parks and Recreation department about getting kids ready to stay home alone. They have tips for parents, who are ready to say “buh-bye” to babysitters.
Know if your child is ready.
Nefstead says knowing if your child is ready is important. Pay attention to the types of decisions they’re making and how much they can handle. There is no set age for a child to stay home alone.
Teach them three golden rules.
Parker stresses children should always learn the three golden rules: don’t answer the phone unless you know who’s calling, don’t answer the door and don’t have anybody over unless parents approve it.
Structure their time.
Routine is your best friend when your child is staying home alone for the first time. Give your child a list of chores to complete or set a specific time for them to do their homework. Having them call mom or dad when they wake up in the morning may add a level of comfort for both child and parent. “To have that routine every day is such a big thing. That’s how you see kids succeed,” Parker says.
Child proof the house.
Make sure you’re creating a safe environment for your children to explore. Put away medications and alcohol and lock away all guns. “Kids get curious. Especially when they’re bored,” Parker says.
Create a safe place.
There are moments that your child is going to be scared—whether it’s during a thunderstorm or because of first-time nerves. Create a space in your home that your child will consider their safe space. Make sure to have a phone nearby, so they can call mom or dad if they're afraid or 911 in case of an emergency. Keep their favorite book or stuffed animal in the space for added comfort.
Have clear expectations.
Create a set of rules and stick to them. If you’re not allowing friends over, then enforce that. Make sure that your child knows that if they break those rules, there will be consequences. Parker suggests sitting down with your child and creating the list of rules together. This way it makes the child feel that they’re part of the process. “Be very strict up front, and then when they can show that they’re being good and that they are mature enough and showing responsibility, then you kind of start lifting the rules a little bit,” Parker explains.
Communication is key.
Communication between the parent and the child is important. Make sure you’re communicating with your children about their experience staying home alone. If something didn’t go right, don’t discourage your child. “Just communicate to try and make it a positive experience for them to stay home alone, and then you can build on that,” Parker says.
Have a plan in place for thunderstorms and fires, for example. Talk about them with your child, and make sure they know what to do in these situations. “They can anticipate and talk about it. And then review this after they have tried it, and let the child have some decision making in terms of how they feel,” Nefstead says.
Research, Then Decide
The Child Welfare Information Gateway recommends not "overdoing it" when it comes to leaving kids on their own. "Even a mature, responsible child shouldn't be home alone, too much," it notes.
Before making a family decision, do your research. To start, visit the website here.